Monday, March 26, 2007

Poetry Matters in the Local Paper

Been off traveling for a week, back to the blog at last.

Thought I'd show one of the poetry columns I write
monthly for our local weekly.

The one I chose offers a short profile of Perie Longo,
the woman who has just been selected to take over from
me as the second official Poet Laureate of Santa Barbara.

Barry Spacks
1111 Bath Street
Santa Barbara, CA 93101
(805) 966-9959


And when the drum beats like thunder
that is the time to raise off earth.

-- Perie Longo, from "Coming of Age"

A poem's energy arrows fully home to our feelings when offered by the
living voice of its maker, so it's good to know that a new CD has
appeared with readings by a major Santa Barbara poetic talent,
Perie Longo,

Available at Chaucer's and at various poetry events, this compilation
--Waiting for Jamal -- gives us 26 key pieces drawn from the career of
this gifted whirlwind of a woman who has been a mainstay at the
Santa Barbara Writers Conference, a pioneer in the art of poetry-
therapy (President of the Association for Poetry Therapy) and area
coordinator and teacher for the California-Poets-in-the-Schools.

Recently Perie was asked to undertake what proved to be a strange,
funny, and unsettling experience as a woman writer performing in
Kuwait. Her reading and lecture stint received extensive front page
news coverage over there. Her poems tend to be expansive beyond
the limits of this column, but let me give you a taste, at least, of
one of her amusing and politically savvy Kuwait memory-pieces, a
poem in which the speaker finds herself rushed off to an appearance
driven by

...the driver, Habeep...
Habeep is a good name for him. Beep, beep.

The Sheraton lobby swarms with white robes,
not a woman in sight.


In the light, I am a crow
in a field of lilies


I shift foot to foot in my high heel shoes...
ask if anyone knows Jamal. “I am Jamal,” the man
says. I ask where the reception is for the Minister.
He shrugs his shoulders. “I am not that Jamal.”

-- from "Searching for Jamal"

In another poem from Kuwait, the visitor's official hostess can't be
dissuaded from pleasing her with gifts.

She buys me saffron in a bottle with its red filaments

that will turn rice yellow, so yellow
you become 
like the sun, eating it.
-- from "At the Kuwait Marketplace with Haifa"

The poet ranges among all sorts of subjects in her work,
but writes about relationships with a particularly compelling
tenderness and wit. Here's the ending of her celebrated
“Fishing With My Father,” which served as the title poem of
a literary anthology in 2005. The speaker records her pleasure
as a child just in "...being with my father 
/ in his joy" as a fisherman. The poem concludes:

If I blinked my eyes thirty-nine times,

on the fortieth a muskie would strike, that fish 

my father’s dream he took to heaven I think.

When I held his arm at his passing,

clung to his hand like no fish ever had,

he let go and I slipped off, like that. 

If I blink thirty-nine times, on the fortieth 

maybe I’ll catch a glimpse of him.

What else to say about Perie? She wrote the dedication
poem, carved in stone, for Santa Barbara's Douglas Family
Preserve, and runs the annual three day Santa Barbara Summer
Poetry Workshop, as well as teaching poem-making privately.
Her third print collection, Nothing Behind But Sky: a journey
through grief (Artamo Press) is also out this fall, and she's
featured in an anthology CD recently released, a Laureate Project
as a fund-raiser in support of April Poetry Month's yearly festival.
This one, Eight Santa Barbara Poets, offers a sampler from a pod-
casting project making spoken-word segments from local poets
available via iTUNES and on the Net. For more info on
The Podcasting Poets of Santa Barbara, tune in to


Friday, March 16, 2007

By Anon the Irisher

I owe so much to Irish poets, I wanted to
set something emerald green on the blog
for March 17th.

I don't recall where I picked up the following,
and hope I'm right that it's by Anon.

Let's call it a Secular Irish Prayer:

May those who love us, love us;
And those who don't love us,
May God turn their hearts....
And if He doesn't turn their hearts,
May He turn their ankles
So we may know them by their limps.


Thursday, March 15, 2007

The Great Marina

I've just completed another Reading & Writing Poetry course
in the College of Creative Studies at UCSB.

One of the most gifted students in the class, Kate Rogalsky,
added two translations from Tsvetaeva to her own work in
her final-project chapbook.

With her permission I want to display one of these renderings.
So, with thanks to the devoted hands of Ekaterina / Katia /
Kate / Kat, this untitled lyric from the great Marina:

I do not think, or argue, or complain.
Or sleep.
I long for neither sun, nor moon, nor sea.
Nor ship.

I do not feel the heat amidst these walls,
Nor garden’s green,
Nor do I long for a desired gift,

Neither the morning gladdens nor the trolley’s
Ring-singing run.
I live, forgetting date and age
And daylight sun.

I am – a dancer on a tightrope slashed
And hewn.
I am – a shadow’s shadow: lunatic
Of two dark moons.

~M. Tsvetaeva, 1913, Translated from the Russian


Wednesday, March 14, 2007

A Homeless Poem

Busy-busy, but here I am again.

I've been (among 97 other things) preparing
the text of a new collection, scheduled for August
from WordTech's Cherry Grove imprint.

This turns out to be a relatively brief
gathering of 50-some poems, with lots
left out for the sake of unified effect.

Which leaves quite a few pieces shivering,
feeling rejected by the very hand
that made them. So I thought I'd put
one or more out on the Blog now or then,
to make amends.

How come the following choice failed to be
chosen? Well, it's hard out here for a poem.


The teacher who would show us how to sky
assumes we've known intricacies of pain,
have tumbled through the razor-vats of woe
respectfully, and slow.

At first this skying master has us slay
rage-monsters, cut the snake-vines of desire,
lead ignorance a way toward skillful means
as tamer of the hunger and the fire.

Such fasting done, the higher arts begin:
to practice laughter at the rage of thought
and sense how borrowed is this shroud our skin,
rapt tourists of the Emptiness we're in

where only loss of lust releases love.
Gone groundless through the bliss we're students of
we leave the formal coffins of the eye,
at last at one with sky, and sky, and sky!


Tuesday, March 6, 2007


Usually my literary dreams consist of long slow
improbable movies or national epics, but the
other night I was given the following, a
bit of advice from Who-Knows-What-or-Where.

Only when I wrote it down did I see that
it has the look of a haiku (if not the
necessary indirection):

It's not being good
that gets you into heaven
but your hours of joy


Friday, March 2, 2007

Free-Range Dust

In now over 50 years of university teaching I've
mainly hammered away at cultivating Negative Capability
(allow complexity, resist fanaticism).

I mention this in a poetry blog because a stance
against fascistic modes of thought leads to a desire
that poetry be allowed to free-range beyond
the terror of imprisoning categories.

My manifesto asserts that every true poem is
an experiment, and I say down with procrustean

There's a sort of poem-work I do which is more
playful, more casual than most of my productions;
at times I think of it as channeled by my
heteronym "Zayre Kaserla" (pronounced like
the country Zaire).

Here. for an example, is a recent Kaserla
which happens to center on the
anti-Procrustean theme.


"Ashes to ashes, dust to dust,"
but what does this mean?

That we wall off the ashes from the dust? --
for why?

Why all this need for fierce tidiness? --
because we've reached the messy end-times?

messy, messy, and some in denial
who wish to keep brains with the brains, hair

with hair? I myself would never complain
if your ashes happened to mix with my dust

but maybe that's me, maybe millions out there
keep watch on the ashes and dust each morning,

uh-oh, somebody's mixed in some ashes
and ruined our once-pure dust, we're stuck

with all this mucked up dust, not to mention
there's also dust in the ashes now

and you can't recycle commingled stuff,
gotta drive all the way to the dump.